Canon SX100 IS Review
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Strong oversaturation in the reds, but still pleasing overall color and saturation.
Saturation. The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS does oversaturate the strong red, blue, and some green tones a fair amount. This is quite typical of consumer models, though at times I found the reds a little too intense. However, the other colors, though bright, were pleasing. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. The Canon SX100 IS' skin tones were a little reddish, but still pretty good overall. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The SX100 IS showed a few color shifts relative to the correct
mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing cyan toward
blue (for better-looking skies), red toward orange, and yellow toward green.
Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, and good exposure as well.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was slightly warm in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting had more of a pink cast. Manual mode was the most accurate overall. The Canon SX100 IS required a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, a little less than average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is quite good, though the blue flowers are a bit purplish. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Very high contrast under harsh lighting, though still a fairly good exposure. Good-looking color.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS performed fairly well, with good overall exposure under harsh outdoor lighting. However, contrast is very high at the default setting, with strong highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is fairly limited, obscured in part by noise suppression and noise artifacts themselves. Definitely take advantage of the Canon SX100 IS's adjustable contrast setting if you must shoot under conditions like this.
High resolution, 1,200 ~ 1,300 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,200 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,300 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,200 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,300 lines vertically. Extinction didn't really occur, though lines began to merge around 1,900 - 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images, though some blurring from noise and noise suppression. Moderate edge enhancement is visible on high contrast subjects.
|Definition of high-contrast
elements is squashed by
noise suppression and there's
evidence of minor
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here.
Sharpness. The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS' detail would be a little better without the visible noise pixels and evidence of noise suppression. Slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows a fair amount of noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail. In the more moderate shadows, strands of hair become lost in a blur of color as the shadow deepens. Still pretty good definition of individual strands overall though. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a jump in noise with strong blurring at the higher settings.
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS produces moderate noise at its lower ISO settings, even at ISO 80. Noise is a little high at ISO 400, with blurry detail and loss of color saturation, but results here are about average. At ISOs 800 and 1,600 softening from noise suppression is definitely high, as you might expect.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, though high contrast and limited shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS produced very high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, with bright highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, partially from noise suppression and partially from visible noise artifacts themselves. The camera required about average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +0.7 EV, though the shirt highlights border on being too bright. Consider reducing the contrast setting with the Canon SX100 IS, and be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level almost down to the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). At ISO 80, the image is dim at the lowest light level, but usable at 1/8 foot-candle. Noise is noticeable at the lower sensitivity settings and increases with higher ISOs, as you might expect. Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
Slightly limited flash range, definitely not a match for the camera's 10x optical zoom. Our standard shots required about average exposure compensation, coverage was a little uneven.
|36mm equivalent||360mm equivalent|
Coverage. Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, with strong falloff in the corners and edges of the frame. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it. In the Indoor test, the Canon SX100 IS' flash underexposed our subject just a little at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting.
ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright out to a distance of about 10 feet, decreasing in brightness slightly from that point on. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target was bright to about 8 feet, and lost intensity gradually from there.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 250
Auto ISO 200
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the PowerShot SX100 IS performs exactly as Canon says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 250). At telephoto, the image only a hair dim, and the camera boosted the ISO to 200 to compensate. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Good print quality, good color, sharp 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10.
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS had enough resolution to make good looking 11x14 inch prints. 13x19 inch prints were good from a distance, but chroma noise shows up in some places, and noise suppression blurs various textures. ISO 200 shots are slightly soft at 11x14, with noticeable chroma noise. ISO 400 shots are soft at 11x14, and the color is muted. At 8x10 detail returns, though color is still less saturated and dark. Noise suppression starts to eat at ISO 800 images at 8x10, and color and exposure dims. A night shot would survive this size, however, it just wouldn't be smooth. At 5x7, however, results are quite good. ISO 1,600 is good at 4x6, but noise is too prominent at 5x7. Overall performance is good, and since most shooters won't go above 8x10, the SX100 should be fine for most consumers. I was a little disappointed by how quickly chroma noise became a problem, and it's really visible in ISO 80 images on close inspection. Still, it's good enough to produce satisfying prints, and those who really like to tinker with their images can use noise processing software and fix them right up.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot SX100 IS Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.